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Hike or bike to a Yellowstone geyser

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Imperial Geyser, accessed via Fairy Falls Trail, shoots water 15 feet into the air and is surrounded by a blue pool ringed by colorful microbial mats. NPS PHOTO

By Christine Gianas Weinheimer EBS CONTRIBUTOR

Yellowstone National Park is home to over half of the Earth’s geysers—more than 500 spouting, steaming, gushing spectacles of nature. While the geysers visible from the park’s excellent system of boardwalks draw the most visitors, a few can be found slightly off the beaten path. The following trails offer close-up encounters with active geysers, and allow bicycles on at least part of the route.

Lone Star Geyser Trail

Escape the Old Faithful crowds by hiking or biking to Lone Star Geyser. A 4.8-mile round-trip, the trail is mostly flat and follows a former service route along the Firehole River to the large geyser tucked away in the forest. It has some paved sections but the surface is mainly packed gravel. Find the trailhead 3.5 miles south of Old Faithful Overpass on the Grand Loop Road.

Lone Star Geyser erupts 30-45 feet approximately every three hours from a 12-foot cone. Several small eruptions occur 15-20 minutes before the main eruption, which can last up to 30 minutes. Inquire at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center, or check the log book at the geyser, for the times of recent eruptions.

Fairy Falls Trail

Named for a picturesque, 200-foot-high waterfall, the 6.7-mile round-trip Fairy Falls Trail also leads to Imperial Geyser and Spray Geyser. Park 1 mile south of Midway Geyser Basin at the Fairy Falls Parking Lot and hike or bike 1 mile on an old freight road to the trailhead. Don’t miss the short trail segment that climbs to an overlook of Grand Prismatic Spring, the park’s largest hot spring at 370 feet in diameter.

From the trailhead, traverse the young pine forest on foot to the falls then continue on to the geysers, which both erupt every few minutes. Imperial Geyser shoots water up to 15 feet from a blue pool ringed by colorful microbial mats. Spray Geyser has two vents that give eruptions up to 6 feet in height, making for a v-shaped appearance.

For a less-traveled route to the Fairy Falls trailhead—and nearly 10 miles, round-trip—approach from the opposite direction by following the freight road around 3 miles from Fountain Flat Drive. On both routes, bicycles are allowed along the freight road, but must be left at the trailhead, where racks are provided. Note that these trails are in a bear management area that opens in late May.

Good to know: There are no restrooms at either trailhead, and parking is limited at the Fairy Falls lot. Consult a trail map for details on your planned route and stay on maintained trails, as the ground might be unstable in hydrothermal areas. Prepare for traveling in bear country by staying in groups of three or more and carrying bear spray.

Christine Gianas Weinheimer lives in Bozeman and has been writing about Yellowstone for 17 years.

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